Course description

Anthropology of Fertility


Comparative Study of Ideas and Cultures (3rd cycle)

Anthropology: Understanding Worldmaking Practices

Course principal:
Assoc. Prof. Duška Kneževič Hočevar, Ph.D.


Course code: 10

Year of study: Not specified

Workload: lectures 60 hours, seminar 30 hours

Course type: general elective

Languages: Slovene, English


Course Syllabus


None required.


Content (Syllabus outline)

1. Evidence of the population dynamics of the twenty-first century: from the population explosion to the population implosion:

  • Dropping of fertility levels worldwide;
  • Demographic crisis rhetoric;
  • Repercussions of low-level fertility;
  • The low fertility of the “domestic” population and immigration of “foreigners”;
  • The response of politics and science to the social consequences of low fertility.


2. Human reproduction: to assure the continuity of individuals and communities:

  • From the reproduction of a ruler to the reproduction of citizens (biopolitics);
  • Fear of overpopulation (Malthus, Darwin, J. Stuart Mill, Spencer, Fiske);
  • The first demographic transition (1850 to 1950) and fear of the degeneration of the population (eugenics, social Darwinism, nationalisms at the end of the nineteenth century, and colonialism);
  • The ideological background of demography as a scientific discipline;
  • From description to analysis of demographic transition (the European Fertility Project, 1963–1979).


3. Demographic anthropology or anthropology beyond the numbers:

  • The second demographic transition (1965; below replacement level fertility) and multicultural Europe (immigration in the 1960s);
  • Precursors to demographic anthropology;
  • Anthropological critique of Eurocentric and evolutionary assumptions of demographic transition theories;
  • Situating fertility: toward a culture, history, gender, and power in the reproductive life of the individual (holistic demography or demographical anthropology).


4. Anthropological approaches in studying population dynamics:

  • Institutionalization of anthropological demography;
  • Fieldwork methods in anthropological demography as a contribution to and not a replacement of demographic methodology; “to observe the unexpected”;
  • The contribution of anthropological theories and not only methods;
  • Case studies.


5. Ethnographies:

  • Ideologies of human reproduction and “proper” attitudes to birth and maternity;
  • Maternity between tradition and modernity;
  • Ethnographies on “colonial and postcolonial” experiences of fertility behaviour;
  •  Ethnographies of the “European” practices of fertility behaviour.



  • Kreager, Philip in Bochow, Astrid (eds.). 2017. Fertility, conjuncture, difference: anthropological approaches to the heterogeneity of modern fertility declines. Oxford, New York: Berghahn Book.
  • Douglass, Carrie B. et al. 2005. “Introduction”. In: C. B. Douglass (ed.). Barren States: The Population “Implosion” in Europe, Oxford and New York: Berg, pp. 1–28.
  • Johnson-Hanks, Jennifer. 2008. Demographic transitions and modernity. Annual Review of Anthropology, 37: 301–15.
  • Coleman, David. 2006. Immigration and Ethnic Change in Low-Fertility Countries: A Third Demographic Transition. Population and Development Review, 32 (3): 401–446.
  • Gal Susan in Gail Kligman. 2000. The Politics of Gender After Socialism. A Comparative – Historical Essay, Princeton, New Jersey: princeton Univ. Press. (Reproduction as Politics: 15-21.)
  • Greenhalgh, Susan. 1995. Anthropology theorizes reproduction: Integrating practice, political economic, and feminist perspectives. v: Greenhalgh, Susan, eds., Situating Fertility. Anthropology and demographic inquiry: 5-12.
  • Van De Kaa, J. Dirk. 1987. Europe’s Second Demographic Transition. Population Bulletin, 42(1): 3-44.
  • Kertzer David I. in Tom Fricke. 1997. Toward an Anthropological Demography. v: Kertzer David I. in Tom Fricke, eds., Anthropological Demography. Toward a New Synthesis: 1-20.
  • Kreager, Philip (1997). Population and Identity. In: D. I. Kertzer and T. Fricke (eds.). Anthropological Demography: Toward a New Synthesis, Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 139–174 (selected pp. 148–174).
  • Greenhalgh, Susan. 1995. Anthropology theorizes reproduction: Integrating practice, political economic, and feminist perspectives. v: Greenhalgh, Susan, ed., Situating Fertility. Anthropology and demographic inquiry: 12-27.
  • Basu, Alaka Malwade in Peter Aaby. 1998. Introduction: Approaches to Anthropological Demography. v: Alaka Malwade Basu in Peter Aaby, eds., The Methods and Uses of Anthropological Demography: 1-21.
  • Bertaux, Sandrine (2011). Reproduce or perish? The artefact of the fertility concept and the French School of Demography. Historical Social Research, 36 (2): 120–139.
  • Krause, Elizabeth L. (2006). Dangerous demographies and the scientific manufacture of fear. The Corner House, Briefing paper, 36.
  • Melegh, Attila (2016). Unequal Exchanges and the Radicalization of Demographic Nationalism in Hungary. Intersections. East European Journal of Society and Politics, 2 (4): 87–108.
  • Marchesi, Milena (2012). Reproducing Italians: contested biopolitics in the age of ‘replacement anxiety’. Anthropology & Medicine, 19 (2): 171–188.


Objectives and competences:

Using sound metaphors about “dying out of the developed world”, “the death of the nation”, and the “reproductive laziness of the young generations”, the rhetoric of the demographic crisis in the twenty-first century masks intertwined state, national, racial, ethnic, and class interests on the fertility issue. This course introduces students to the history of studying fertility as a constituent part of population dynamics: fertility, mortality, and migration. The students obtain insight into the theories and methodologies of demographical anthropology in the context of mainstream demographic approaches.


Intended learning outcomes:

Understanding of:

  • ‘population issue’ since the Malthus’s theorization;
  • theorization of the first, second and third demographic transition and their critiques;
  • anthropological concepts and theorization of demographic discourse;
  • anthropological approaches and methodologies of studying themes related to population dynamics


Learning and teaching methods:

Types of learning/teaching:

  • Frontal teaching
  • Independent students work
  • e-learning


Teaching methods:

  • Explanation
  • Conversation/discussion/debate
  • Work with texts



  • Short written assignment (20 %),
  • presentations (20 %),
  • final examination (written/oral) (60 %).


Anthropology of consciousness and practices of awareness

Asst. Prof. Maja Petrović Šteger, Ph. D.,


Anthropology of Fertility

Assoc. Prof. Duška Kneževič Hočevar, Ph.D.,


Cosmology of Mesoamerican Societies

Prof. Ivan Šprajc, Ph.D.,


Epistemological pluralism and “decolonizing” methods in ethnographic research

Assoc. Prof. Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Ph.D.,


Laughing politically: toward the anthropology of humor

Prof. Tanja Petrović, Ph.D.,


Public anthropology, social engagement and activism

Assoc. Prof. Ana Hofman, Ph.D.,


Research Methodology in Anthropological Linguistics

Prof. Borut Telban, Ph.D.,

Karmen Kenda-Jež, Ph.D.,


Space and movement: towards anthropology of locations and migrations

Asst. Prof. Nataša Gregorič Bon, Ph.D.,